Federal Panel Reports Data Everyone Already Knew: Veggie-Based Diet is Healthy and Environmentally Friendly. Meat Industry Lashes Back Anyway.

Earlier this week the federally-appointed Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee issued a report which found that high-plant, low-meat diets are both healthier for individuals and have less adverse impact on the environment.  This is not news.  Efforts to resolve America’s healthcare crisis have shone a spotlight on the benefits derived from eating plant-based diets and the health problems often associated with consuming too much meat.  Likewise, the disturbing environmental and humanistic costs of raising animals for slaughter have been long known and, in fact, heavily reported (for an interesting look at how America’s meat industry may be more harmful to the environment than foreign livestock operations, see this article by Tim Worstall at Forbeshttp://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/09/03/it-does-not-take-7-kg-of-grain-to-make-1-kg-of-beef-be-very-careful-with-your-statistics/).

Nonetheless, the meat industry immediately condemned the report.  Some pro-meat advocates claimed that any consideration of environmental impact was beyond the scope of the Committee’s charge, which is to recommend dietary guidelines. Other critics tried to obfuscate the issue by arguing that obesity in America has increased as red meat consumption in America has declined (contemporaneous occurrence does not equate to causation; for example, vegetarians can become obese if every serving of vegetables they eat is accompanied by a side of chocolate cake).


Of course, the meat industry has a strong incentive to attack the report.  The federal government uses the Committee’s recommendations when formulating dietary guidelines.  Yet, it is extremely unlikely that the federal government will issue dietary guidelines that actually condemn meat consumption.  First, the Committee’s report recommended three dietary styles: vegetarian, Mediterranean, and a traditional American-style diet.  So the report is not a wholesale condemnation of meat consumption.  The meat lobby is also strong and will surely fight to keep meat on the menu.  But more than anything, Americans simply are not going to give up burgers overnight just because a federal panel recommended eating less meat.


So summer barbeques will surely go on unabated by federal recommendations (that is if summer ever arrives; weather in the Northeast is still dismal).  There is, however, no denying that large segments of the American population follow diets that are terribly unhealthy and that disastrously impact the environment.  This is a problem that is not going way.  As populations worldwide grow and resources become ever scarce, we may indeed come to a point where we eschew summer barbeques in favor of a summer salad.  But we are not there yet, despite knowing full well what we are doing to ourselves and to the world.


Article written by Michael Keenan, Esq., associate with Hinman, Howard & Kattell, LLP.  To contact Mr. Keenan directly please email mkeenan@hhk.com or call (607) 723-5341.

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